In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…


A Galaxy of Talent


I am elated to share the news that my story, “Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow,” will appear in Galaxy’s Edge issue #14 alongside stories by Alan Dean Foster, Larry Niven, Nancy Kress, Greg Benford, Robert Heinlein & more.


This stellar lineup is a testament to the work that Mike Resnick and his editorial partners are doing, and a reminder to me to keep up my efforts.

It’s a real, real, honor to be in this company.

Finn Fancy Necromancy

Randy Henderson has hit the proverbial toboggan out of the wallrus park with this one, and that takes some doing as you might imagine.

I bought this book because I know Randy. I finished it because it’s good. Really good. He’s written a sassy main character who’s a little bit retro, a little bit lost puppy, and a little bit superhero sunflower waiting to bloom. Finn’s a teenager who’s just about to confess his first love when who gets framed for dark magic and sent into spirit exile. On the day of release, he’s attacked and dumped back in his body with no memory of the last 25 years. The girl friend has grown up. So has the family and the girl next door. Disco is dead, and so will he be if he can’t find out who framed him and why, and stop them before they kill off his family, send him back into exile, and maybe start a war.

Randy’s prose is fresh and jaunty, his world building nuanced but lean. The world he creates is funny, what with the inter-garden gnome transport system and Sasquatch buffoonery, but it’s also convincingly real and menacing. He lays out his characters masterfully, then elevates the stakes and momentum in a smooth ride to crescendo. Oh, and you’ll never guess who dunnit.

Read this book. You’ll love it. It will make you laugh. It will make you smile. It will make you a tiny bit wistful about the 80’s and the Washington coast, even if you’ve never seen either of them. And it may or may not make you cry. I’m not telling.

Buy it at Amazon

Meet the Winners — Amy Hughes

When I won Writers of the Future last year, I interviewed my fellow winners in the weeks leading up to the workshop and it was so fun and such a nice introduction, I decided to do it again! So continuing with our Meet The Winners series, this week, come get acquainted with a writer you are sure to here more of in years to come, brand new Writers of the Future winner, Amy Hughes.

Stuart: Welcome Amy, and congratulations on your win. Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

Amy: In the past 17 years I’ve lived in Nevada, Arizona, Ontario Canada, Colorado, California and Utah. We move a lot. This summer we’ll be moving overseas to Saudi Arabia. Screenshot from 2015-03-08 20:31:44

I love to write, I’ve been writing since I can remember being old enough to hold a pencil. I loved to read. In high school I was the shy, quiet kid who spent the lunch hour hiding under the stairs reading fantasy novels so I wouldn’t have to actually speak to anyone. Because Orcs were cool. Talking was scary.

Talking is less scary to me now. I still think Orcs are cool.

Stuart: Empirically, Orcs are cool. It’s the deathly pallor, I believe. So what got you into writing, Amy?

Amy: I’ve been writing all my life. I have a series of stories from second grade about a magical bunny rabbit named ‘Tricksy’, who could fly and grant wishes. They’re illustrated and everything.

Stuart: That’s awesome! The only thing I remember from second grade is this girl who moved to our little town from the exotic land of Alaska, and making a paper-mache turkey. Where do you do your writing?

Amy: My writing space travels, actually. I write on a laptop, which in theory means I can take my writing space with me wherever I go. I have two very active little boys though, so most of the time, if we go somewhere, I’m wrangling, not writing. But I do find that my writing space floats around the house quite a bit. I have an office space set up with books lining every wall and an herbal apothecary in the closet. I have postcards from all the places I’ve been tacked up all over. But I tend to get distracted fairly easily, and once I’ve gotten too distracted in a space, it gets hard for me to treat it like a place where I can just sit down and write. So I migrate around the house. I’m currently writing at the kitchen table. It has good light and a view of our chicken coop. Before that, it was the couch in the living room, before that it was my bed. Eventually I’ll make it back around to the office. I usually do.

Stuart: Ha ha. Really following the muse, eh? I write on netbooks for the same reason—and to utilize the bits of free time that would otherwise be wasted in transit and waiting lines. I remember writing most of my winning Writers of the Future story in the car on the way to and from Galveston, in fact.

So tell me, do you have any talents or hobbies?

Amy: I knit, bake artisan bread, garden, dabble in herbal medicine, homemade soaps and lotions and I can do one heck of a turkey gobble imitation.

Stuart: Hey, Megsn O’Keefe, WotF winner from my year is a soap maker too. You guys should chat. I should warn you, though, turkey calls are best avoided in the Lowes hotel where the winners are put up. It attracts SpoungeBob SquarePants imitators in from Hollywood Boulevard. No one knows why.

How long have you been entering WotF?

Amy: Actually, I only ever entered the contest once. I’ve known about the contest for years and always intended to enter, but I’ve been busy raising kids for the past while. About two years ago, I realized the youngest was finally approaching kindergarten age and I was going to be able to start writing again. It was time to enter. I tried writing a few short stories and failed miserably. My own mother couldn’t have found anything nice to say about these stories. So I started studying short stories intensively. I read nothing but short stories for over a year and must have burned through a couple hundred before something in my head clicked and I finally started understanding how a short story was built. I wrote ‘The Graver’ and went through a massive number of edits trying to get it right. I was shocked when I won. I honestly thought I was going to spend the next couple years entering, so I’m feeling sort of unprepared now. This all happened faster than I thought it would.

Stuart: Very impressive! And smart. I always tell folks, study the form and the market and you’ll have better results.

Star Trek or Star Wars?

Amy: Star Wars hands down!

Stuart: “These are not the droids you are looking for.” “Yes they are, Look at’em!”

Pantser or Plotter?

Amy: Panster all the way. Though I have recently figured out how to outline very short distances ahead of myself. It’s helping. But I honestly can’t see far enough ahead in the story to ever really outline.

Stuart: You and I can grow together. I am still trying to mash my brain into a productive instrument of composition. Some days are better than others.

Tell me, what’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Amy: I crashed in a hot air balloon.

The wind pushed us the wrong direction and we were about to cross over an amusement park. That’s federally restricted airspace.

The pilot thought he’d found a nice city park to land in, but it turned out to be a fully fenced golf course and they couldn’t get the support vehicle in. The baskets are too heavy to lift without the trailer close by. He had to try to pop us back up and over the trees around the golf course. We scraped our way through the top branches. I actually grabbed a handful of leaves on our way up.

He decided he was going to have to set down in a neighborhood. His wife jumped out of the support vehicle to grab the rope. We nearly drifted into someone’s house. She wasn’t big enough to control the balloon in such a tight space and we dragged her quite a ways before our pilot started yelling at the neighborhood residents to jump in and help. Several people got on the line and brought the balloon more or less under control. All the while, we were drifting closer and closer to the cross street, and the dead end row of houses along it.

When the basket finally touched down, we hopped and skidded and the basket turned over, dumping us out onto the pavement. It was a very rough landing. Our pilot was a whole lot more worried than he’d let on. Someone had broken a collarbone and ended up in the hospital on a similar landing in his balloon a few years earlier. We were lucky to have been merely jostled.

But it turned out to be a local resident’s birthday and he got to spend the morning taking down a hot air balloon in his pajama’s. And for the rest of my life I get to tell people that I crashed in a hot air balloon. So I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out.

Stuart: Wow! Amusement parks are restricted airspace. Hold on while I note that in my checklist of world domination tips…..

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Amy: The ability to freeze time. That way I could take a nap, clean my house, fold my laundry and still have time to get my writing done. Plus, I could mess with people without them ever knowing I was there. That’d be cool.

Stuart: Okay, the judges tell me that technically, as described, that is the same power as “super speed” so when you get the chance, be looking for either on the application. And make sure I get an application, will ya?

When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Amy: My brother’s truck. It was an old metal truck that I finger-knitted a leash for. I used to drag that thing around with me everywhere. My mom kept trying to get me interested in Barbie’s and Cabbage Patch dolls, but I never could get into them. The truck was useful and nobody cared if it got covered in mud.

Stuart: Ha ha! I’m just picturing a little girl out walking her truck. For a moment I thought you meant a real truck. My mother taught school and had a third grader steal a school bus once, but you could never get a leash on one of those.

What would your distinctive wardrobe tag be, if you dared adopt it?

Amy: If I dared, it would probably be a cloak. I love the way a hood looks. Plus, it’s useful. It keeps off the rain, hides your face from the bad guys, and you can sleep in it if you happen to spend the night under a tree.

Stuart: Cloaks are cool. I have worn a cloak. I have been told I have ligth footstep…

Tell us about your winning story.

Amy: My story is ‘The Graver’.

It’s set in world where people have discovered a way to harvest and reabsorb the energy of the human soul after death. This can be used for everything from curing cancer and extending life, to just getting a really great high. Daniel allowed his wife’s soul to be harvested to use her memories to catch the man who killed her, but he’s not sure if in doing so, he destroyed her soul forever. He’s taken his daughter to a family ranch in an effort to escape his past and keep his daughter safe. But the past will always catch up, and nowhere is ever really safe.

Stuart: Sounds amazing! Well thanks Amy! And enjoy your time in Hollywood!

Amy: Thanks Stuart!


If Amy crashed any more heavier than air craft, you can read about the casualties at


Writers of The Future Winner, Auston Habershaw

Joining us this time, Writers of the Future first quarter winner, Auston Habershaw. Here we go!

Stuart: Auston, it’s great to meet you. Introduce yourself.

Auston: Let’s see, where to start with me? I’m a science fiction and fantasy writer (though really more fantasy thanAustinHabershaw scifi of late) who lives in Boston. Though I have had a wide array of jobs during my life, for the past eight years or so I have been an English Professor at MCPHS University. The school is focused around preparing students for the Health Sciences, so basically I try to teach all these science-focused students how to write essays and analyze literature. The rest of my time I write.

Stuart: So what got you into writing?

Auston: I can’t quite remember a time I wasn’t into writing. I’ve always, always wanted to tell stories. The only question was what kind of stories and in what form would I tell them. When I was in first or second grade, we were asked to write a paragraph. I wrote a paragraph that went on for a page and a half (it was a single paragraph, just long one). My teacher tried to give me a “C” for going past one page. After my mother tore the teacher’s head off, I remember being told specifically not to write more than a page. Naturally, then, I made my handwriting smaller. Then I got a D for Handwriting. I couldn’t quite understand why my teacher wanted me to stop writing so badly when I had more things to say. Basically, ever since I learned how, I’ve been writing something.

Stuart: Describe your “writer’s cave” your preferred writing location

Auston: I write at my desk either at work or at my home. In both locations, the desk is cluttered with books and papers and stuff. Right now at work I have 65 index cards stuck on the wall depicting every scene in my latest novel, which is in late-stage revision. Wherever I write, it needs to be in absolute silence. No music, no real white noise–nothing. I need the quiet to “hear” the words I’m writing, if that makes sense to you.

Stuart: Makes perfect sense. I’m the same way. So how long have you been entering WotF/ is this your first contest win?

Auston: I entered WoTF once in the 90s, when I was in college. I didn’t really enter again until 2008-ish, and then I entered about once a year since then with the exception of the past year or so, where I entered more often. I’ve probably entered ten times overall. I netted 1 Honorable Mention, 2 Semifinalists, and 1 Finalist before my the win. This was really exciting, since I was set to pro-out next year. My debut novel, The Iron Ring, just released on February 10th.

Stuart: Well that’s fantastic! And congrats on the book! What’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Auston: I used to work as a minion for a slumlord who operated a shady bed-and-breakfast in Boston. One of my jobs was to get fresh towels for guests who requested them.What the guests did not know was that the towels were kept in the unfinished basement of a nearby building. During the day, said basement was the domain of a trio of sullen Guatemalan ladies who spoke no English. During the night, when most of the towel requests came in, the basement was the domain of rats. Lots of rats. Big, ugly, black or brown Norwegian rats with no fear of human beings. So, my process for securing the towels was to turn on the lights and yell, then do battle for possession of towels. I took the towels from the middle of the stack so as to guarantee no rats had slept upon them. To my knowledge, no patron contracted the Plague, so my conscience is (mostly) clean.

Stuart: Oh my gosh! Well a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Tell us about your winning story

Auston: “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” is a fantasy story about an angry young man living in the ruins of a city ravaged by war and in the midst of a long reconstruction. It’s a story about the haves and have-nots and about how foreign interference (even if well-meaning) can often be resented by the native poor who don’t see any progress or hope for the future. It is set in the same world as my novel, The Iron Ring.

Stuart: Sounds cool. Tell us more about the book..

Auston: The Iron Ring is about Tyvian Reldamar–smuggler, criminal mastermind, and rogue–who is betrayed by his longtime partner and left for dead in a freezing river. The catch is this: his mysterious rescuer affixes a magical ring to his hand that keeps him from doing evil. This means Tyvian needs to find a way to get revenge without doing anything bad, which poses something of a challenge. This is the first part of an epic fantasy adventure called The Saga of the Redeemed which will track Tyvian’s (potential) redemption from vain, selfish, arrogant bastard to just a regular old bastard. The Iron Ring is out now, Blood And Iron (part 2) will be out in June, and the third installment will be out in the fall, all through Harper Voyager Impulse.

Some of the inspiration for the character and the books themselves comes, oddly enough, from Ian Flemming and James Bond. I consider Tyvian something of a Bond-esque character in a high-magic fantasy setting, so if that appeals to you at all, you will probably love the books. It is currently only available electronically, so you can find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Stuart: Sounds awesome! Bond in a magical realm. I can’t wait to check it out. Well thanks for dropping by Auston. The books and the story sound intriguing, and I can’t wait to see you up on stage in April!

Auston: Thanks so much!


Find out more about Auston at

His novel, The Iron Ring, is available here, at


The Old Sodium in the Toilet Prank — It’s Not What We Thought At All

A scientist of my acquaintance, in a paper just published in Nature Chemistry, has overturned a century’s work on the well-studied interaction of water and alkali metals. That’s right, there’s a whole lot more to the old sodium in the toilet trick than anyone suspected, and the science could save lives. And the best part? It all started out as a YouTube video.

For generations, students have been taught that alaklai metals (Lithium, Sodium, Potassium, Rubidium, Cesium, and Francium), in reaction with water, release hydrogen and heat, which causes an explosion. Of course, many (including myself) have noted that the amount of hydrogen involved could not possibly cause the observed reaction. Others have invoked a “fuel-coolant interaction” in which a molten metal dropped into water causes an explosion essentially driven by steam. But again, those of us who have tried this, know it simply doesn’t hold water, as it were.

Now, Phillip Mason and his team at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, in collaboration with a team at the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, Braunschweig, Germany, have shown this all to be rubbish. Mason’s interest was peaked a few years ago when he made what he thought would be a simple and fun YouTube video illustrating the hackneyed “sodium and water go boom” trick using a $300 high speed camera. What he found, though, were colors and behaviors incompatible with established dogma. He dug, conducting a series of ever more elaborate experiments in his back yard, at his lab, and in the high deserts of the American west. Finally, he had a hypothesis compelling enough to recruit his professional colleagues at two institutes and secure the use of a $100,000 femptosecond high speed camera.

In the end, they demonstrated that the classic reaction is a “coulombic explosion” in which dissasociated electrons soluted into water create an electric field strong enough to rip the metal apart, thereby causing a classic explosive chain reaction. In the accomanying image, you can actually see spikes of sodium being yanked out into the water–not by an explosion within, but by electric charge from without. If this seems odd, remember that the electromagnetic force is astronomically stronger than gravity, and all the devices of modern society, from xray machines to mag-lev trains rely on quite minuscule electric fields.

Why is this important? One confirmation of the coulombic explosion hypothesis came in the form of a predicted antidote to the explosion. Mix a tiny amount of surfactant into the water, and the explosion is stopped cold. This new realization could save hundreds of lives each year, and prevent millions of dollars in damage, by giving foundries the tools to finally eliminate industrial explosions that have always been something of a mystery. In addition, quantum modeling suggests that during the explosion of one liter of sodium, the charge imbalance would be on the order of five billion amps. The ability to trigger such a massive release of electric power, even for a tiny fraction of a second, will surely have commercial applications, such as, oh, I don’t know, starting a fusion reactor?

This is science as good as it gets.

Writers of the Future – Meet Tim Napper

Continuing our “Meet the Winners” series, this week, meet Tim Napper, an aid worker, stay-at-home dad, and now Writers of the Future winner.

Stuart: Hi Tim, so how’d you get started writing?

Tim: Timing and opportunity. While I’d written non-fiction for some years, I was deeply committed to my profession as an aid worker, and as such the thought of pursuing a career outside of it never really occurred to me. What would I dream of other jobs when I was already working in what I felt was my calling?

But I took a break from the work two years ago, partly because I was exhausted by it, but mainly because my wife wanted to get back to her career after giving birth to our son – and I very much wanted to take care of him.

I’m a voracious reader, love science fiction and love writing, so I resolved try my hand at writing fiction and produce as much as I could while we lived in Vietnam where my wife has a job for three years.
Stuart: Describe your “writer’s cave” your preferred writing location.

Tim: I have a great cave. Some Vietnamese art on the walls, plus a large mineral map of Australia (which I’m using for a novel), plus my framed WotF prize money, a glowing review of one of my stories by Locus Magazine, plus two of the walls plastered with my short stories. I find the final edit of a story easier when it’s stuck up on a wall, perhaps because of seeing the spatial relationship between the various parts of the story; being able at a glance to see how it all fits together.
Stuart: That sounds amazing! How long have you been entering WotF. Is this your first contest win?

Tim: I entered WotF four times I think: 2 rejections, 1 Honourable Mention and then the win. The winning short story was the fifth I’d written ever, so no, no other wins. I’d had a couple of token sales beforehand, but that was it. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I adamantly refused to believe I’d won, first arguing with Joni that she’d made a mistake, then for two or three months assuming that the organisers had made a terrible mistake and confused my story with another’s.
I’ve subsequently had two sales to Interzone, and one to an Australian publication (Grimdark) that pays pro rates. This has made me start to think that perhaps the WotF win wasn’t a huge administrative blunder after all.

Stuart: That’s great! Well congratulations! Okay, Star Trek or Star Wars?

Tim: Put it this way: I have a tailor-made Star Trek Deep Space Nine costume as does my 3 year old son. Sometimes we wear them around the house while mum is at work.
Stuart: Well why not? I mean, when ISN”T the right time for for cosplay? If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Tim: The power to make people believe in and respond constructively to scientific evidence, no matter what their ideology.

Stuart: You and I will work on that one.

Tim: Either that or Hulk-like strength.

Stuart: Tell us about your winning story

Tim: Near future noir set in Sydney’s criminal underbelly.

Stuart: Nice. Well that sounds very intriguing. I can’t wait to read it, and see you all up on stage in April.


Learn more about Tim at There’s a lot to learn. He’s done a lot and written a lot, not all of it science fiction.
While you’re poking around the Interwebs, be sure to check out  my subscription page and I’ll send you a signed e-edition of my winning story from last year.

Write What You Know: Humanity

Writer, Ada Hoffman recently got some press for a series of tweets about writing strong female characters by giving them “agency,” in which she says “Agency is not about characters being good or bad characters, it is about what the characters are given the opportunity to do.”

Yeah, sure. I’ll go along with that. Look, characters are written to serve all kinds of literary needs. The most important, in my opinion, are to entertain and evoke thought about the human condition. Women (or men) who fumble through scenes tripping over rocks and having to be helped along are not very interesting, though every archetype has it’s place. But I was stunned, recently, when a fellow writer and self-professed feminist declared, “You want to know how NOT to write female characters, just look at Sarah on the TV show Chuck.”

Really? A tough as nails, sexy woman who uses every asset at her disposal to overcome crushing oppression, then wrestles with moral, professional, and personal balance as she tries to grow as a spy, a woman, and a contributor to human society? Oh well, of course not. Why would we want more characters like that? I am a feminist, big time, if that means women should not be treated like chattel, but they should still be allowed to be women in the process.

Meg Ryan made a film called Courage Under Fire in which she played a soldier whose helicopter crashes, and while issuing orders to male subordinates, stops to say “What are you looking at? It’s just tears. It doesn’t mean anything.” Now, if you interpret that to mean girls are cry-babies who shouldn’t be in combat, you are wrong. But if you interpret it to mean the screenwriter was deluded by stereotypes, you are equally wrong. The reason I remember it is, my wife was in the army when we met, and she told me about occasions when she or others would cry under stress, and how the men freaked out about it.

But I’ll tell you something. My wife has an expert marksman medal and a wall full of commendations, and when she was in, she could run just as far and do twice as many pushups as required for the men. Only the rangers beat her at orienteering, and during field exercises, after she ordered a prisoner shot for repeatedly trying to signal her squad’s position (which makes him a combatant under rules of engagement), a grizzled gulf war vet (who had seen her tears on at least on occasion) shook her hand in front of all the drills and said he’d serve with her any day. So would I.

Which is a long-winded way of saying, women are more complicated than stereotypes, because women are people, and people are complicated. And women are more complicated than the anti-stereotype archetypes that some want to advance, which are in themselves, just stereotypes.

Now, I can’t ever know what it means to live a particular woman’s life. So what? My wife can’t know what it means to live my sister’s life. But I can write characters that speak to both, to all of us, and that’s often what I try to do. We each face unique challenges and hurdles, and what one woman or man may brush off as par for the course, may be a crippling obstacle to another.

When I write a female character, often as not, I just envision her that way, and that mental image has as much to do with personality, wit, style, and logical position within the universe at hand, as it does with overt, contemporary themes of gender identity, procreation, and career-life balance. Unless that’s what the story is about.

Which brings me back to Ada’s point. Stories are not, generally, about getting characters right, so much as about putting them in interesting circumstances. Almost all literary characters are exaggerations of real life, and that’s okay. That’s what enables them to react to the plot in an evocative, memorable, even riveting way. That’s what enables them to tell us about ourselves.

Meet the Winners! Scott Parkin

Continuing our series with this year’s Writers of the Future winners, I’ve finally got hold of second quarter winner, Scott Parkin.

Stuart: Welcome Scot. Introduce yourself.

Scott: I’m a software technologist specializing in enterprise IT who’s decided to jump into this fiction thing with both feet after dabbling for twenty five years. I’m also a trained operatic bass, trombonist, and former electric bass player for an alternative rock band. I’m happily married for twenty four years and have six children (the oldest studying veterinary medicine in college).

I once read every book (including the dictionary and encyclopedias) in my grade school library; about 5000 titles. I think Tolkien is overrated .

Stuart: Wow! I know when I was a kid, I went through the juvenile section of the library in one summer, but I only read what interested me. You must have had real dedication! So what got you into writing?

Scott: Reading and the movie, The Dark Crystal. I taught myself to read at age five and have never looked back. My voracious curiosity led me to sample many different kinds of writing and I found the mythopoeic genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror, folklore) to be the most engaging, interesting, and informative. While I enjoy all reading, speculative fiction thrills me.

But I had never considered actually writing fiction until I saw the Jim Henson film, The Dark Crystal. It was visually beautiful, but featured a story that I found hopelessly cliché and trivial, so I sat down to write the story it should have told (for the record, I did a lousy job—this fiction stuff is hard). I’ve been hooked ever since.

Stuart: I think we’ve all been there, at least for a little while. Describe your “writer’s cave”:

Scott: I surround myself with technology and books—a full-wall bookshelf; computer table with my domain controller, central media library (audio and video), and laptops; and a desk, a heavy steel government surplus jobbie from the 1950s, with my PC and audio system. The closet is stuffed with computer parts.

Music remains one of the joys of my life, so I have a full home theater system hooked up to my computer and floor-standing main speakers and center channel sitting on my desk behind my two oversized monitors. None of these silly, palm-sized computer speakers for me. I knock dishes off the counter upstairs when I crank it up.

Stuart: Ha ha! When I was a kid, I used to do that with Bach organ music on chrome tape. Now-a-days I use isolation headphones. How about talents or hobbies?

Scott: I’m an occasional woodworker and DIY guy. The operatic bass thing is a little unusual, I guess, though I’m way out of shape from when I actually studied thirty years ago; I still have a better than two octave range and can hit the pedal b-flat with consistency, if not thundering power.

Stuart: Impressive! I used to have a two octave range from choir, but it’s depressing how it fads if you don’t use it. So how long have you been entering WotF? Is this your first contest win?

Scott: I first entered back when Algis Budry was the coordinating judge–contest year 4 or 5. I’ve ended up with something like a couple of dozen honorable mentions, semi-finalists and finalists.

So far I’ve actually made more money from mainstream fiction than sf (though with the WotF antho that might finally turn around).

Stuart: Star Trek or Star Wars?

Scott: Yes. And Firefly, Babylon 5, and Farscape as well (though not so much Stargate or either Battlestar Galactica). If I have to pick one, I’ll go with Star Trek.

Stuart: Good answer. I’ve never understood the animus in some quarters. I like them all, and I’d through in Warehouse 13 and Eureka as well. Pantser or Plotter?

Scott: Research-buoyed pantser. I always start with a core character or situation and a target endpoint. Then I fly completely by the seat of the pants through story ideation in the first draft. I think the truest, most vital stories emerge from the subconscious and my job is to grease the skids then let the story reveal itself as I go; structuring and deepening are part of the rewrite. Which is odd, because my day job for more than twenty years was to plan out every detail of a software project in advance.

Stuart: Coming from the same background, I found the same thing. It’s a very different approach, this artistic creation gig. What’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?

Scott: For some reason I keep getting mistaken for famous people. At different times I’ve been accused of being Steven King, George Lucas, and Orson Scott Card. At a local convention many years ago one fan refused to believe I wasn’t Card (big guy with a moustache named Scott—had to be Card, right?), and kept pestering me for an autograph. So I finally obliged. Somewhere out in the weird wide world there’s a copy of Ender’s Game with my signature (Scott R. Parkin) inside a giant O opposite its title page.

Stuart: Ha ha! You know, I got to meet Scot Card last year. He was the honoree at our awards gala. I know he’d have howled at that! If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Scott: Speed (think Flash). It’s the one superpower than can functionally duplicate many others (flight, teleportation, invisibility). Since super-speed requires commensurate brain processing, you can even simulate super-intelligence through brute force processing power and trial-and-error effort.

Stuart: Ah, the mind of the scifi author at work. You and I should hang out. When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Scott: When I was six I had a metal, battery-power robot that would walk, then open its chest and fire two laser guns. I thought that was the coolest thing ever, and I would run it until the batteries died, over and over again. The other thing was any metal spike (nail, bolt, whatever), a coil of wire, and a battery.

Stuart: Oh yeah! The big honking lantern batteries, and the wire would get hot!

Scott: I was fascinated by electromagnets from the age of seven, and built increasingly powerful versions for years before moving on to electronics and disassembling things to see how they worked. I used to trawl gar(b)age sales for all kinds of devices.

Stuart: Me too! I miss those days of junk drawers and a permanent solder station. If I’d had an adult to guide me, I might be an engineer now. Okay, so if you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (ala Dr. Who’s scarf/bowtie etc.), what might it be?

Scott: Dragons, preferably as either a shirt or a vest, though I’m not opposed to jewelry. Asian dragons, by the way. The serpentine kind with no wings (dragons fly because they’re magical, not because they’re aerofoils). I’m not a big fan of hats.

Stuart: Thank you. Look at a dragons wings. Look at a pterodactyl. Discuss. So tell us about your winning story.

Scott: An experiment in form composed entirely of five-word sentences (and some other five-count Easter eggs that I’ll save until it’s published). I was working on the idea of “character is setting” and trying to internalize what that meant, so I chose an artificial hedge that would force me deeper into POV’s unique mindspace and demand that I stretch myself beyond comfortable limits to express his reality.

Stuart: Whoa! Well that will be an interesting read!

Scott: The ideas of constructed beings and organic limitations on thought and perception have fascinated me for years (think Oliver Sacks and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). My original concept was an AI with control over powerful weapons technology that was programatically limited to five-word memes to keep it from turning on Humanity—full creative and decision-making capacity, but fundamentally limited scope.

Stuart: Kind of like people.

Scott: A fail-safe of sorts to keep human commanders on-mission, to narrow its ability to be swayed by external argument during negotiations. As I sat down to write, though, the story changed entirely and became an extended metaphor and existential exploration that tied a half-dozen other stories I’d written into a coherent universe. It’s a tale of a meme-limited organic being created by Earth scientists to negotiate a peace with an unknown alien race capable of genetic manipulation and elemental deconstruction with alarming ease—his own body an organic firewall against that terrifying capacity; give up as little data as possible by streamlining his DNA to the minimum necessary footprint. They then strand him in deep space on a mission to keep the aliens at bay for as long as possible.

A prime example of why I’m a pantser—where I started and where I ended were entirely different places, though the core ideas remained consistent.

Stuart: Fun stuff! Well I can’t wait to read it, and meet you in person one of these days.


Watch Scott accept his award on the Writers of the Future website, Sunday, April 12th.

If you haven’t already done so, visit my subscription page and I’ll send you a signed e-edition of my winning story from last year.

Meet the Winners – Martin L Shoemaker

When I won Writers of the Future last year, I burned off some of the anticipatory energy leading up to the workshop by interviewing my fellow winners. It was so much fun, I decided to do it again. This week, meet a name already familiar to some of you, Martin L Shoemaker.

Stuart: Howdy Martin, can I call you Martin? Of course I can, that’s your name. Tell everyone who doesn’t know, who you are.

Martin: I am a writer with a lucrative programming hobby. I’m not a full-time writer yet, and I thoroughly enjoy programming; but I would love to someday do programming on the side, rather than writing on the side. I’m not afraid to tell the world that two of my favorite movies are “Hudson Hawk” and “Howard the Duck”. Once you’ve admitted that in public, there’s not much left that can shock people. Speaking of “Hudson Hawk,” I can’t watch that film without singing along to “Swinging on a Star” and “Side by Side”. That ought to surprise somebody! (And terrify them, if they know my singing voice…)

Stuart: Hah! So no forlorn dreams of a singing career then. What got you into writing?

Martin: I have absolutely no idea. I have told stories for as long as I can remember. I had imaginary friends, and my mom tells me I made up stories about them. When I was 5 or 6, my brother got a typewriter and I was fascinated: That machine could put words on paper, and they would be just like A REAL BOOK!!!!!

When I was a teenager, I submitted a few stories, got a few rejections, and got discouraged. Meanwhile, I was learning to program, and I was a natural at it. So I veered in that direction, and I satisfied my storytelling urge through role-playing games, mostly as a gamemaster.

I never REALLY gave up writing, I just gave up believing I could do anything with my writing. I was sure it was a pipe dream, but I kept writing anyway. And one day I had a first chapter that I thought might become a book, and I shared it with my gaming group. Among them is my brother-in-law, Mark “Buck” Buckowing. Mark is one of the most voracious readers I know. He looked at my chapter and said, “Write THE END on it, and send it out. That’s not a chapter, that’s a great story.”

Stuart: Awesome!

Martin: So I was hooked all over again. I started writing a lot more. I started submitting, and not letting rejections slow me down this time. I started studying. And four years later, I have Third Place in Writers of the Future. I have four sales to Analog: two already published, and two coming out in 2015. I have two sales to Galaxy’s Edge and two to the Digital Science Fiction anthology (now defunct). I have one story in “The Gruff Variations: Writing for Charity Volume 1”, and one in “The Glass Parachute” anthology. And the most stunning to me of all: my Analog novella, “Murder on the Aldrin Express” was reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction 31st Annual Edition, and also in audio and eBook in Year’s Top Short SF Novels Vol. 4. All because I stopped letting rejection stop me, and all because my brother-in-law gave me a shove in the right direction. Thanks, Buck!

Oh, and that story he told me to send out? It won 2nd Place in the Baen Memorial Writing Contest. Rich Johnson won 1st, but couldn’t make the trip from Australia, so I attended the awards in his place. I had dinner with Ben Bova, and lunch with BUZZ ALDRIN! Thanks, Rich! And thanks, Buck!

Stuart: I’ve always said, it’s impossible for any writer to over appreciate his or her beta readers. Describe your “writer’s cave” your preferred writing location.

Martin: My most pleasant writing experiences have been in unexpected places where the right confluence of events gave me time to kill and just the right mood. I wrote half a novella in an airport one time when there was a flight delay. I wrote nearly 10,000 words on New Year’s Eve two years ago, half in a gyros shop and half in a Starbucks. I had a party that night but no place to go for most of the day, so I just sat and wrote. So often I crave this sort of writing spot: a restaurant, café, park, or museum where I can escape for a few hours. I’d love to live near a good space museum that I could turn into a regular writing haunt.

Stuart: How long have you been entering Writers of the Future?

Martin: I first entered in 2011 and stumbled in as Finalist. To make a long story short, I entered every quarter from then until my win. In all, I had 1 win, 2 Finalists, 1 Semi-Finalist, and 8 Honorable Mentions. Plus 1 Rejection, but I didn’t let it get me down!

Stuart: Very wise. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Martin: When you can have both, why choose? But I will say, when it comes to Star Wars, I fell asleep halfway through Episode II and slept almost completely through III. When it comes to Star Trek, I have watched the Original Series more times than I can possibly count. I’ve watched the Animated Series at least half a dozen times. I’ve watched Next Gen probably three or four times at least. I’ve watched most of DS9, maybe a third of Voyager, and all of Enterprise. I’m not a huge Star Trek reader, but I’ve read at least 30 titles. And long, long ago, I wrote a couple of pieces of Star Trek fanfic. So I’m far, far, FAR more familiar with Star Trek.

Stuart: If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Martin: Patience and its dark side: Stubbornness. And I DO have it! I pride myself on my patience. Sometimes I even make a game out of it, trying to determine just how long I’ll have to wait for something. I once pulled into a drive-through lane and ordered one thing: a butterscotch shake. I got up to the window and waited. I saw someone bring the shake up to the window, set it down, and walk away. I saw somebody else come up to the window register briefly and then walk away. And so I waited. There was no one else in the drive-through lane behind me, so I waited some more. After a few minutes, my brain shifted into The Patience Game: How long can they go before somebody realizes what’s going on? So I waited some more. And the insidious side of The Patience Game is that the more time I invest in waiting, the more reluctant I am to give up. So I waited. And I waited. And eventually the manager came to the window and asked what I needed. When he learned that I had been in line for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES… Well, there was some shouting that came clear through the glass of the drive-through window.

Stuart: Ha ha! Great one! Tell me, when you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?

Martin: So many choices! Let’s call it a tie: a little plastic triceratops I called Trixie and Major Matt Mason, the astronaut figure. Rumor has it Tom Hanks wants to make a Major Matt Mason movie. If he does, I will be first in line for tickets!

Stuart: Sweet! For those who may not be familier with Major Matt Mason, here’s the here’s the Wikipedia link. When I won Writers of the Future, I had originally written my story for another market. How about you?

Martin: Well, ‘Unrefined” started as another Baen Memorial entry–the PERFECT Baen Memorial story, by my calculations. So it didn’t even place. Now the thing about Baen Memorial stories is they’re excellent Analog stories. This one was the PERFECT Analog story. So naturally, Trevor gave it a pass. So I sent it to WotF, right on the heels of a rejection. And I was absolutely sure that Dave would hate this story. So naturally… Authors, don’t try to predict the markets. They’ll always surprise you.

But the first idea? It centered around a team/quasi-family of asteroid miners who have to deliver a load or default on a contract. Only there’s one problem: I grew up reading Jerry Pournelle’s “Those Pesky Belters and Their Torch Ships”. The nuts-and-bolts are too much for this interview, but basically the essay proves that asteroid belt societies just make no sense. he problem is that the asteroids are so far apart, any ship with enough energy to land on these asteroids has more than enough energy to land on and launch from Earth. Pournelle smashed the concept of Belter civilization. Now that hasn’t stopped people from writing Belter civilization stories, but I can’t believe in them. And if I can’t believe in them, I can’t write them.

But Pournelle also gave us an alternative, one that I was not at all ashamed to adopt. An asteroid is hard to catch, but a planet’s gravity makes it easy to catch. And a massive planet like Jupiter is even easier! Plus Jupiter’s gravity has swept up millions of asteroids over the eons, capturing them as moonlets. And once your spacecraft is in Jupiter orbit, it’s relatively easy to rendezvous with these moonlets, since the difference between your velocity and theirs is low. Pournelle predicted a mining colony or colonies in Jupiter orbit. In “Unrefined”, I called these the Pournelle Settlements, and included a much-abbreviated version of this explanation.

That choice changed my initial concept. Instead of a small mining ship, the focus shifted to a settlement. I added an initial scene of the husband’s death, and the story expanded to explore how the colony could survive physical and economic sabotage and fulfill the dead man’s dream. I like to think it’s about a lot more than that: intrigue, leadership, grief, trust, and love.

Stuart: Well I can’t wait to read in in WotF 31! Good luck Martin, and enjoy Hollywood!


Martin’s work has appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Galaxy’s Edge, and elsewhere. More at

You Love Me! You Really Love Me!

C Stuart Hardwick
Shawn Scarber
Marina Nelson Lostetter
Jamie Lackey
John EckelkampRobert Dawson
Stanley Love
Martin L. Shoemaker
Angus McIntyre
Karen Birkedahl Rylander

Since its early days, science fiction has played a unique role in human civilization. It removes the limits of what “is” and shows us a boundless vista of what “might be.” Its fearless heroes, spectacular technologies and wondrous futures have inspired many people to make science, technology and space flight a real part of their lives and in doing so, have often transformed these fictions into reality. The National Space Society and Baen Books applaud the role that science fiction plays in advancing real science and have teamed up to sponsor this short fiction contest in memory of Jim Baen.

Page 10 of 25« First...89101112...20...Last »